There's no ordering room service in these hotels. This month, the mayor of Seoul, South Korea made headlines by announcing plans to install "insect hotels" in the city's parks. No, the goal is not to provide better accommodations for bugs travelling to the city for business or pleasure; it is part of the mayor's pledge to improve Seoul's urban environment.
As our lawns, gardens, and urban landscapes have become increasingly manicured, habitats for all types of wildlife, including many insects, have declined. Just as birdhouses are designed to give birds a safe home in an uncertain environment, insect hotels, sometimes called "wildlife stacks," provide shelter for insects in areas where human activity has removed the best hiding spots.
Depending on your perspective on our six-legged friends, the phrase "insect hotel" may sound like either a joke or a nightmare. The structures—typically constructed from a variety of recycled materials such as pallet wood, twigs, bark, lichen, and leaves, with different compartments or layers designed to attract different species—have been common in parts of Europe for years. In Germany, Britain, and the Netherlands, the hotels are often installed to provide nesting sites for solitary, wood-dwelling bees and wasps. Others use them to give pollinators and pest-controllers, like butterflies, beetles, and lacewings, a home in their gardens.
There is little scientific data on how effective the hotels actually are, but one thing is certain: An insect hotel is more likely to benefit the landscape if it is designed to fit within an ecosystem. "These structures are often providing shelter, but not necessarily feeding areas," says Matthew Shepherd, communications director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Beyond the roof over their heads, insects should have access to a variety of native plants and a source of water.
If you're concerned about your neighborhood's bug diversity, follow the lead of Seoul's mayor — here's how to build one yourself. At any rate, your backyard birds will thank you for the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Check out some photos here.